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What Are Distributed Energy Resources and How Do They Work?

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You could benefit from additional resources to traditional grid-sourced energy.

Distributed energy resources (DER) are growing in both popularity and access. Understanding the components and advantages of this technology is vital for homeowners and landlords who could benefit from additional resources to traditional grid-sourced energy.

Types of Distributed Energy Resources

Here’s a quick breakdown of the varying types of DER or Distributed Energy Resources:

  • Combined heat and power plants;
  • Electricity storage, such as pumped hydro-electric in which electricity fills, pumps, then ultimately releases water from a reservoir to pass through a turbine to generate electricity;
  • Compressed air, in which electricity squeezes air to a maximum pressure value of roughly 1,000 pounds psi (per square inch), releasing it through an expansion turbine generator when demand is high;
  • Flywheels, in which electricity accelerates a flywheel rotor, conserving the resultant power until needed, at which time the flywheel is released to power a generator attaining rotational speeds up to 60,000 revolutions per minute;
  • Batteries resembling large scale rechargeables, which reserve available electricity until needed. This scale of battery is often made of lithium ion, lead acid, lithium iron or more recent technologies;
  • Thermal energy storage, wherein electricity is made to produce thermal (heated) energy used to chill water or sustain ice, or during peak demand, cool air, and
  • Solar energy, which captures sunlight to produce photovoltaic power (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP) for heat dispersal within lights, pools, heaters and small appliances.

Distributed Energy Resources and Solar Energy

Let’s focus on the most popular form of Distributed Energy Resources or solar-powered systems.

Solar power systems work as an adjunct to traditional coal or petroleum-based resources. Rather than relying solely on the electrical grid, which strains and occasionally buckles during peak demand times such as throughout extreme heatwaves, customers can deploy solar power to boost capacity when needed. Users may also access solar energy under less demanding circumstances, in order to reduce environmental impact.

Solar power access has achieved reliability since its inception in the 19th century. Patents for the process began appearing in the U.S. as early as 1888. The first solar cell was created by Charles Fritts, who coated selenium with a fine layer of gold. He noted that while such primitive cells could only achieve a low conversion rate of one to two percent, it was “continuous and constant.” Since that time, solar cells have grown in conversion ability, with many cells or panels now regularly achieving 15-20 percent efficiency.

The Rise of Solar Energy

While efficiency and output improved steadily during the 20th century, it wasn’t until the energy crisis of the early to mid-1970s  (despite significant refinements achieved at Bell Labs in the 1950s, most notably due to the substitution of silicon for selenium) that solar power entered common consciousness. It was at that point that solar cells began their slow but steady incorporation not only into business usage but also as a preferred feature in modern homebuilding.

Between 1994 and 1999, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NREL, further enhanced solar cell technology to feature gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide, which empowered solar cells to achieve 30% conversion efficiency. By the end of the 20th century, the NREL was able to further enhance conversion rates (by the incorporation of thin-film solar cells) to reach a 32% conversion rate of solar energy into power.

Solar Panels on Residential Homes

At that stage, the home building industry began regularly offering solar panels as a feature in newly built homes. “Do it yourself” building of solar panels became feasible around 2005, while by 2015, paper-thin solar cells became available as a result of advances in industrial printing. The new, thinner cells are ideal for roof tiles or shingles. These film-like strips regularly achieve a rate of 20% conversion power, with a solitary strip offering approximately 50 watts per square meter.

Along with greater accessibility, solar power offers a significant price decrease versus electrical energy. As of 2021, the average price for home energy solar power access is roughly $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), though prices do vary depending on location and market availability. Contrasted with the current rate of $0.13.19 per kWh for electric power, it’s clear that adding solar energy access could not only aid in lower electric energy bills but could also significantly reduce users’ carbon imprint. This makes solar energy ideal for those who are not only cost-conscious but also actively engaged in environmentally friendly practices.

Of further important note is new legislation extending residential solar tax credits, which will remain at 26% for 2021 and 2022, dropping to 22% in 2023. (Legislation is subject to change.) Those currently engaged in the home building process, or homeowners considering alternative Distributed Energy Resource or DER options, might heed these pending changes when considering their timeline for adding solar power to their current power system.

Elevation will Elevate the Experience

For questions or further information on how solar energy can help power your home, contact Elevation. Elevation is leading the transition from sole reliance on traditional power to access to affordable Distributed Energy Resources for consumers, utilities and enterprises, and can aid in:

  • Residential Solar and Storage: turnkey deployment of residential solar and storage across our seven-state footprint in Arizona, California, North and South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Texas;
  • Distributed Energy & Grid Solutions: aggregated smart homes with metered controls utilizing smart algorithms to aid in both monitoring and managing energy consumption, assisting homeowners in simultaneously reducing energy expense while shifting demand, permitting utilities to implement continuous Virtual Power Plant solutions and Active Demand Management strategies;
  • Data & Diagnostics: through our Curb Energy program we provide customers and utilities real-time visibility of home energy consumption and breaker level detail, enabling advanced demand management and predictive analytics of HVAC systems.

For more details, or to learn more about Elevation has to offer you please contact us.